Retailers with plans to open their doors Thanksgiving night instead of waiting until Black Friday officially begins at midnight or the next morning are facing increasing criticism from employees upset at not being able to spend the holiday with their families.
For the second year in a row, employees of retailers including Target, Walmart and Toys R Us have started or signed petitions on Change.org calling for Thanksgiving day off.
Toys R Us led the pack last year by opening at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night. This year they'll open at 8 p.m., along with Walmart, Sears and Kmart, though most Walmart stores are open 24/7 and Kmart stores will be open earlier in the day before closing briefly at 4 p.m. Target will open at 9 p.m.
When Casey St. Clair, 24, heard she would have to work Thanksgiving night at the Target in Norco, Calif., she felt like the retailer had gone too far. The petition she started on Change.org to save Thanksgiving from Target now had more than 340,000 signatures Sunday night.
As of Friday, Change.org had 91 petitions against Black Friday sales that start on Thanksgiving, said spokeswoman Charlotte Hill. Last year the site ended up having 150 total, and with 10 to 15 new petitions a day this year, Hill expects to surpass that number.
The backlash comes as groups of Walmart workers across the country have been walking off the job to protest unfair wages and poor working conditions. The protests, organized by employee rights group OUR Walmart, are expected to continue this week and into Black Friday.
Walmart spokesman David Tovar says the protests only represent a handful of stores and won't affect the retailer's Thanksgiving or Black Friday plans.
Last year's calls for retailers to alter their hours were unsuccessful, and the same is likely this year given the pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers to compete with both each other and e-commerce players heading into the biggest shopping period of the year.
A statement by Target on its website about the decision to open at 9 p.m. acknowledges a "highly competitive" holiday season and says "our opening time this year reflects the feedback we have heard from our guests - many prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning."
But even if employers don't back down, the protests by employees and others create an unfavorable narrative, says David Johnson, CEO of public relations agency Strategic Vision, which represents corporations and has worked with retailers in the past.
"It creates the public persona of these big corporations who just care about profit," he says. "Thanksgiving used to be sacrosanct."
Johnson expects retailers opening early to see reduced traffic from shoppers who don't condone opening Thanksgiving night and infringing on their and employees' holiday plans.
Maura Ducharme, 41, is one of them.
"Employees should be mad, and they should not have to work," she says. "It is pathetic that our consumer-driven economy worships the dollar over people."
Hadley Malcolm and Oliver St. John